Happy International Women’s Day! There are many ways to mark this special day for yourself. As a woman living in Germany, here are three tips I have found to get closer to the aim of the day, embracing equity.
It may sound counter-intuitive to the goals of IWD day. But sometimes saying no, is the best thing you can do to reserve your energy for something else.
Case in point, if you are feeling overwhelmed at work, it’s ok to say no wisely. You don’t need to burn out to have permission to say no. You don’t need a doctor’s letter to allow you to pace out your tasks.
By saying no, you are being efficient with your time and your energy. This is one lesson I have learned working in Germany.
Self-care isn’t selfish
This tip is a bit tied to the first. But we expand it outside of activities that pay you, aka a job. Prioritizing things like walking outside, or playing an online game or painting your nails, and leaning back on that couch could fill your emotional tank much faster than planning a holiday once a year.
When you do this often, you have enough energy to get through most of whatever else life throws at you.
Case in point, if you are feeling overwhelmed at work, it’s ok to say no wisely. You don’t need to burn out to have permission to say no. You don’t need a doctor’s letter to allow you to pace out your tasks.
It’s not always easy to start telling yourself how incredible you are. How meticulous you are with your planning and organization skills. It’s not always easy to remember these things.
One thing that can help is to be audacious about how we are living. Occupy space like you deserve to be there. One thing about audacity is that it’s shameless. And for many of us, we need to build that audacious muscle. And that can only happen in a series of events.
The first is to make small attainable goals and praise your efforts when you achieve that. The second, just like any workout, is to do this consistently, and you will be surprised at how easy it becomes to speak positively about yourself.
This exercise reminds you what you are good at, what you have improved, and what you’d like to learn.
You don’t need permission. Be audacious, and claim that equity in your sphere of influence.
For first-time mothers, knowing what they need precisely in terms of support can be a challenge. So here are some ways you can support your friend.
I was pregnant in the summer of 2020. If you remember, it was the summer of lockdowns and limited human contact. It was the corona summer. For the most part, my pregnancy was smooth. Of course, I learned many new things and feelings too. But the one thing I never imagined I would need to know was my needs from my friendships during pregnancy.
Imagine you have lived your life knowing what you need or at least having an idea. Then suddenly, you are in the middle of the beautiful miracle that is growing a baby. Then you realize you need your friends, but you need them differently. This scenario was my reality.
At the height of the pandemic, people kept to themselves because the pandemic was still new, and we all didn’t quite grasp the impact it would have on our lives. Then as time progressed, we kept to ourselves, first to follow the rules and secondly to try and remain as healthy as possible. Therefore, I spent my first trimester learning when to share the news with friends and my workplace, and such. And I was learning all these in seclusion because of the lockdowns. So, before you realize you are already in your second trimester, you have found a way to figure out things by yourself.
Of course, I wasn’t the only one in this situation. As I joined online platforms of pregnant women, it was clear that navigating friendships was a hot-button issue.
So how do you support someone that doesn’t know what they need from you?
Talk to them honestly and frequently
I felt like I talked to my friends. But there were things I couldn’t ask friends that were already mothers. Things like how they decided to share their news or settled on a name or even something as simple and dynamic as they processed the many emotional changes.
The topics you can talk about with your friend are dependent on the kind of relationship you have. But don’t be offended if they don’t come asking you for advice. There were many times I tried communicating with my friends; however, there was no breakthrough.
Now, of course, we were all navigating the new normal the pandemic brought. We were all figuring out how to live with limited physical contact. And here I was additionally learning new ways my body could feel and stretch. I was so emotionally tired that I learned not to talk. However, I had friends who kept talking to me. Friends who, even when I couldn’t respond quickly, still checked in on me. And in reverse, I found it easier to talk candidly to those that shared their personal experiences with me.
Some topics you can talk about are your experience at the hospital. Do try and stick to the facts. Don’t be a fear-monger or a shamer. You can also talk about how many clothes you needed for your newborn. I went to the hospital with a size 50 outfit, and my child came home in size 56 clothes because he was long. I had done my research, but it would have been fantastic to share this with someone. Next, you can talk about any pregnancy symptoms, mainly to do with hormonal change. On some days, I struggled with motivating myself and was worried about what was happening. But then those periods would pass, and all would be well again. Finally, you can talk about things you did to prepare for postpartum life.
There are so many things one can discuss. So if you want to support your pregnant friend, talk to them and have empathy that they are going through a significant transition in their lives. If you are already a mother, then respectfully share your experiences with them. There is no need to let your friend go through something avoidable just because you didn’t share. So again, talk RESPECTFULLY to your pregnant friends.
Listen (or read) keenly
When people talk, listen completely. Unfortunately, most people don’t Listen.
Listening is an art. When supporting your pregnant friend, do try to listen keenly or read their messages keenly. That way, you will help them the way they need instead of thinking they don’t need you at all.
Offer and persist
I did not know what I needed from my friends. The reason I didn’t realize was that I had never been in the position before. I didn’t know that I would need to get a car seatbelt extender, for example. Or that I would have days when I would feel overwhelmed by German bureaucracy. I didn’t know that I would become anxious about a daycare spot while only 20 weeks pregnant because childcare places are so few.
So it was reassuring when some friends offered to share their bureaucracy checklist with me. Or when another friend said I should change my insurance to ensure I am taken care of when I go on maternity leave.
So as a friend, you can offer your knowledge, provide your time and your presence. And don’t be discouraged that they didn’t take your offer the first time. Instead, be persistent in loving up on them and showing them grace.
These are the three main things that friends can do to support a pregnant friend who will become a first-time mother. Of course, I have to say; only you can gauge how much of yourself you can give to your friends. Only you know how your friend will react. But I believe you can apply these three things to anyone you consider a friend. Hopefully, you also meet the same treatment from them. Because just because your friend is pregnant doesn’t mean that they are emotionally incapable, but sometimes they may need a bit more kindness.
How much does it cost to birth a child in your country? I have been mulling over this question. You see, I didn’t pay anything out of pocket despite having major unexpected surgery. But, on the other hand, I know of women who had to cough up thousands of US dollars just for primary birthing care.
I became curious to know how much it could cost in Germany. So I talked to BARMER Insurance, one of Germany’s leading public health insurance.
Let me back up a bit. It is a legal obligation to have health insurance in Germany, whether you are in-between jobs, a minor, or even a tourist. Everyone is required to have one. The amount of premium paid, of course, varies depending on your earning capacity. Every earner pools money in a big basket, and everyone can enjoy health services without worrying about fundraising.
So how much does is the average total medical cost of birth in Germany?
Of course, there are variables such as is it a vaginal birth or surgery. At BARMER Health Insurance, the average cost for vaginal delivery in 2020 was 2,397.66 euros. For a cesarean section, it was 4,174.58 euros. In the same year, 68.3% of the births were vaginal, and 31.7% were through cesarean section.
Who Pays What?
How much does the insurance pay, and how much do the parents pay? Tobias Klingen is BARMER’s North Rhine-Westphalia press spokesperson. He says that statutory health insurance pays for everything that is medically necessary. That includes prenatal care, childbirth preparation classes, childbirth, aftercare treatment by a midwife, and postnatal training courses.
Since the insurance pays for the primary care, new parents can decide to pay for additional services. These optional services include, for example, having a single room or so-called family rooms in hospitals.
The average total cost can be affected by various variables. Without going into details, some of the variables are the number of children, the week of pregnancy, vaginal or cesarean section, previous illnesses of the mother, disease of the unborn child, and complications during and after delivery.
How much would it cost if you wanted to have a home birth, of course, under the guidance of your health care providers? Klingen says that BARMER would cover the costs of the midwife who accompanies the birth. The amount includes the remuneration for the work and any material fees that may arise. The costs for this can total between 700 and 900 euros. And just like during hospital births, some variables could affect the total cost, such as the time of delivery. There are also surcharges for midwives who are on duty at night or on weekends.
When it comes to access to maternal health care, statutory health insurance covers a lot. You can check out this pregnancy resource from BARMER. The language is German, but after using google translate you can reach out to the insurance’s ever present and helpful customer service for any further questions.
For additional information on giving birth on Germany as an Expat check out this.
I knew motherhood would be a massive change in my life. And I thought I was ready for that change. After all, I always loved and embraced change in my career and personal life. So I have always been prepared to move with the times even when it wasn’t very comfortable.
So why was I suddenly facing some unexpected growing pains? I never saw these three things coming.
Let me explain. It doesn’t hurt the baby; it hurts me. After close to half a year of adjusting to being the only food source for my child, I knew and was even looking forward to introducing solids. I expected to feel free. It was the opposite. I found myself confounded by the feeling of loss. I realized that the adjustment to my new role had defined my identity to some extent. And now, the baby no longer just depended on me for food. And that realization hurt.
The La Leche League as that it is absolutely normal for such feelings. In fact, some women experience both positive and negative emotions. And it makes sense when breastfeeding is the central part of your motherhood experience. A significant amount is spent with the baby on the crook of your arm or in whichever position. And suddenly the time is left but the activity is drastically reduced.
2. The Essence of Time
I wrote about time previously, but let me expound. On nights when I don’t sleep too well, the daytime hours blur into one big blob of existence. I do function, thank God, for routine. But frankly, I am only fully present in spurts, and in those moments, I thoroughly enjoy our life together.
But after a few days of little sleep, I will have one restful night and see how much my child has grown in the previous days.
This feeling of time being abstract extends to my career as well. I keep up with the changes in my industry and organization. But sometimes, it feels like nothing is moving until it does. When I don’t stay informed for a few days, I can appreciate the changes that otherwise would be so minimal to notice. Now, this isn’t new, but the perspective from observing my child develop helps me notice things that I would have continued seeing but not appreciating.
3. Becoming a stay-at-home parent
A loved one once quipped that maternity leave is like a holiday. I know. Before you lose your temper, the person has since recovered from the momentary loss of common sense and empathy.
Staying at home is hard AF, pardon my language. It is more challenging than the 22-hour shift I have done in the past. It is more tasking than the 48 hour trip to Paris that I did to save money. It is hard. Many elements make it hard such as being on call, being touched out, having invisible labor, the list can go on.
However, make no mistake. I love being my child’s mother. This child is such a light bomb in my life, and I wouldn’t change anything about us.
Nonetheless, I also love being a career woman. I enjoy challenging my brain with things that are different. I mean, one could argue that researching the safest car seats in 2021 is challenging enough. However, it doesn’t take up the space that my work had. So I miss my job, I miss my career. And although I have attempted to go back earlier, less tangible things like attitudes and more practical things like child care keep me from going back to work before one year.
And that lack of choice makes it even harder to be a stay-at-home parent.
For more information about the safest car seats in 2021, check out the English version here.
Liquid gold! Breast milk has come a long way to be recognized in Germany. Breastfeeding was once frowned upon, but in the last three decades, it has been encouraged.
Before my baby, I assumed that breastfeeding was automatic. I mean, I saw it around me while growing up, and no one batted an eyelid when a mother had to nurse a child until the internet brought breastfeeding shame and debates of covering up while nursing.
Breastfeeding is very cultural. In some societies, it is encouraged and is part of baby nutrition. In other communities, it is a volatile issue. The world health organization recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of their lives. For any mother reading this, this article is not about shaming anyone who is not breastfeeding. Breastfeeding has many benefits but is not the only way that a mother can bond with her newborn. This post is about my discovery of breastfeeding in Germany in comparison to Kenya.
Breast Feeding in Germany
Before the 1920’s babies were breastfed either by the mothers or a wet nurse, but then industrialization happened and suddenly bottled cow milk was the in thing. Privileged women stopped breastfeeding as a status symbol.
During this period, bottled milk was the safe and convenient option, while breastfeeding was seen as a nuisance since it restricted women’s movement. In addition, breastfeeding in Germany was also seen as a low-status symbol.
The low rates of breastfeeding were also heavily influenced by the Nazi era. In 1934, Doctor Johanna Haarer published the book “Die Deutsche Mutter und Ihr Erstes Kind” – A German Mother and her first child -(German language)’. This book advocated for children to grow up with as little attachment as possible. She further said that excessive caresses, kisses, love, or any kind of attention would spoil the child.
The aim and result of Haarer’s book were to raise soldiers for the Nazi regime. Therefore the women were required to deliberately ignore the needs of little children. Nevertheless, Haarer’s book sold 1.2 million copies, and it became the foundation of kindergarten education.
How Nazi-era undermined breastfeeding in Germany
What does this have to do with breastfeeding in Germany? Sigrid Chamberlain, a former social worker, and author told the Publik Forum that after the child was born, it was bathed, swaddled, and left alone for 24 hours. Only then was the mother finally allowed to breastfeed it. She further says that caregivers fed children on schedule. Breastfeeding took a maximum of 20 minutes, while bottle-feeding took a maximum of 10 minutes. The child did not eat on demand. If the child became hungry, it had to wait until the next mealtime. This recommendation from an expert, of course, discouraged many women from breastfeeding for any reason.
These factors led to a generation of many emotionally absent individuals. It also deprived new mothers of information about breastfeeding since not many people had breastfed before and didn’t know how to start and what to do when faced with different breastfeeding challenges.
The situation gradually changed from the 1970s as organizations such as La Leche Liga encouraged breastfeeding among the general public, doctors, and midwives. This move led to hospitals bearing signs that they are breastfeeding-friendly. In addition, women came together to form ‘ Stillgruppe’ Breastfeeding groups. They exchanged ideas and experiences, encouraged each other, and created a support system as they learned the ropes.
Current breastfeeding situation
And all the effort worked to teaching mothers how to breastfeed and allowing them the autonomy to choose. The Robert Koch Institute says mothers in Germany breastfeed an average of eight months in recent research. Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture says that 90% of mothers intend to breastfeed, but it doesn’t always work. Only 68% of the women end up breastfeeding exclusively after birth. The ministry acknowledges mothers need more support with breastfeeding because they have to learn it. Additionally, the ministry’s research showed that Germany is only a moderate breastfeeding environment. Nevertheless, a targeted communication strategy would help increase the acceptance of breastfeeding.
Amidst the challenges, Germany’s legislature supports breastfeeding by financing maternity protection and offering parental allowance for the primary caregiver. This legal and financial support means mothers do not always have to rush back to work after three months. Instead, they can stay as long as three years.
Breastfeeding in Kenya
I started this article by saying as I was growing up in the 90’s-2000’2, breastfeeding was normal. However, the length of time is what varies. Kenya’s Ministry of Health says the number of children exclusively breastfed for six months increased from 13% in 2003 to 61% in 2014.
What the Kenyan government is doing to increase and sustain breastfeeding
Two initiatives stand out as a factor for the increased level of breastfeeding in Kenya. The first one is adopting the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI ), launched in 1991 by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. BHFI is when a hospital has implemented the ten steps to successful breastfeeding. The steps include training the health care personnel and post-partum breastfeeding support, such as training and counseling new mothers.
The second one is the baby-friendly community initiative. In this activity, the community takes part in protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding mothers. More concretely, the support is through the formation and training of community mother support groups.
Challenges facing breastfeeding in Kenya
But even though Kenya is doing well with 61% of babies exclusively breastfed, there are still some challenges.
In comparison to Germany, Kenya’s parental leave is three months with full pay plus any annual leave days. Extension is only at the discretion of the employer.
Socioeconomic factors also play a significant role in how long a mother can exclusively breastfeed a baby. One of the main challenges the working mother faces is a workplace that doesn’t support breastfeeding. However, the government has a guideline on how best to support breastfeeding mothers in the workplace.
As I researched on this topic, I was astounded at how something so natural could also be political. I believe society should be more open to breastfeeding and give room for women to decide if and how they want to do it. Those who wish to but cannot breastfeed should have timely access to support to help them achieve that. I hope on this you have learned something or three about breastfeeding in these two countries. I am happy to answer any questions in the comment section.
You can find additional resources for first-time mothers in Germany here. For first-time mothers in Kenya check this out
The month of July ended on an absolute high as black women from all over Germany met in Frankfurt for an empowerment session.
I traveled about 3 hours from Bonn to Frankfurt just for this event. And I was not the only one. I met Cynthia who came from Stuggart and Dorcas who came from Heidelberg. I met Melanie from Munich and Rose from Berlin. And I can tell you it was worth every minute of the long journey. The vibe was simply magical. There were beautiful womxn dressed in vibrant colors and wearing bright smiles. There were children too playing on the side. A detail that made the event so special; the organizer offered child care for children as young as two years old.
The sold-out event was organized by Sunshine Goldenchild, who describes herself as an author, speaker and womansworker. And true to her words, being at the event showed just how much inspiration she brought to everyone present.
Sunshine and her team ensured that all hygiene measures were in place. Starting with the Rebstock Park location, to prior online registration and a requirement of a negative test of vaccine certificate. As I was registering, I saw two people being sent back for the Corona test. Luckily there are test centers everywhere, and they were back before the event started.
The line up was so good one wished the event was a whole day. I attended the event lead by Rose Kapuya on ‘Mental health in our community.’ Rose is one of the few black therapists in Germany. Her session was mind-opening. She led us through an exercise that reminded us how solidarity in our daily lives should feel and look. And after a year of limited human contact, the reminder came at the right time. You should check out Rose Kapuya and her work within the Black community
There were other sessions I would have loved to attend if it were possible. Starting with Sunshine Goldenchild’s ‘Self love Journaling Workshop’. I was keen on this because there is so much power and healing in the written word. I would have loved to hear her experience and learn from it too.
Lucid.Sensualista also led a Divine Feminity and Yoni health workshop. I would have loved to follow this workshop and connect over divine femininity. As a career woman, I think it is essential to live an authentic life. But the job market is cutthroat, and many women adapt to more masculine characteristics to move ahead or, at the minimum, be noticed. So Lusyd’s workshop would have been a great reminder to embrace my divine femininity. What about the yoni, well you know everything revolves around that, right? So of course, for that too.
There was also a session for; the entrepreneurial woman, who wants to learn how to care for herhair. Sessions for the yoga loving woman and of course, the woman caught at the intersection of black girl magic and the strong black woman.
As with any good event, there was food! Claudia’s Taste provided Nigerian food. She understood the assignment and delivered! I had the mixed jollof rice with chicken and plantain. I highly recommend her if you are ever in Frankfurt.
The next time you are scrolling social media and see an event that looks interesting. Then, follow your gut and when you can afford it, plan to attend. The Frankfurt 2021 Black Womxn Empowerment day will remain a highlight of the year.
Becoming a mother has been the most smooth transition. My child is peaceful and joyous. He laughs by himself, he laughs at me, he laughs with me. My partner made sure that I settle into motherhood by taking care of things that he can’t help me with, like my mental well-being or simply grooming things. So you see, becoming a mother for me has been mostly smooth until it wasn’t.
As with many transitions, there have been things I didn’t see coming. Perhaps I should have, but I was busy focusing on growing a whole human then meeting and learning the child after birth. A process that I know will never end.
Shifting friendship goalposts
As a woman, I didn’t feel as if I had changed how I interacted with my female friends. I felt like I still cared for them as I had done before pregnancy. But I soon realized it wasn’t the case. Whereas before I was flexible and ready to meet friends at short notice and at their convenient locations, I could no longer do that. I had a whole human to nurture and care for.
I started noticing that I was expecting the friends to now meet me at my point of convenience. I started evaluating keenly the kinds of conversations we were having with said friends. Were the conversations worth the effort to meet the said friends? Were the friends accepting and embracing my changed status? I am still figuring this out.
Even as I continue examining my relationships, something beautiful came out of my changed status. I was on the receiving end of intense and pure friendship during my transition into motherhood. I had mothers holding me up, making sure I never hungered, making sure I learned to trust my gut fully. Women who listened reassured me and loved me back to full health. Women who showed me how I can pass that love on to the next.
Shifting Identities from career woman to career – mom
For a long time, my career defined me. Suddenly, I became a stay-at-home parent and I am grateful for the time. However, occasionally it feels like I never had a choice.
Let me explain, in Kenya, maternity leave is three months. After that, a mother can choose to continue staying at home or going back to work. Of course this decision is based on many factors that I won’t go into. But child care is easily available whether in the form of parents or as paid labor
In Germany the Maternity leave can be up to three years. During this time, you do receive financial support from the government. The amount you receive is based on the average salary you earned in the previous 12 months before birth. You could receive up to 67% of your salary (If you are interested in more of this, let me know in the comments).
This sounds fantastic on paper. But the reality is available child care is very limited. For example, I had to start looking for a day care place in October 2020, I found space for August 2022. Therefore, to encourage women to have children, such financial incentives and laws ensuring you cannot be fired while on maternity leave are implemented.
So here I was, happy to meet the young lion, and also oscillating between missing my career and loving my new season. My absence from my workplace definitely took some adjustment. At home I was tired every evening but my labor felt invisible. Sure, my child was growing and meeting milestones. But it still wasn’t the same as the results I would have when I was working out of home. It took talking to other career women to realize that the shift in identities is very normal. Moreover, it forced me to define my identity.
My Identity is not what I do, it is who I am.
Shifting sense of time
What is time? I find myself asking that too often. It sometimes happens while I am folding away clothes that my child will never wear again. Or looking through pictures and realizing he will never be that small again.
Sometimes it feels like I am not there as he is growing. I am with my son so often that only pictures remind me of how much he is growing each day. I mean I do notice almost every new thing like how he has learnt to complain cry of to fake laugh just to get a reaction from us. I do notice these things but still when I look at picture and videos from the last couple of months I am in awe of how much has changed. When my child turned 12 weeks I remember telling my wonderful in laws that it feels like ‘ He is only 12 weeks old and also he is already 12 weeks old’. Because it didn’t feel like so much time has passed. Days slide into each other, the nights feel like short interludes to a very long song.
Loving this boy has definitely shifted my perception of time. And it is true what people say, priorities become clear once you have to care for someone who can never repay you. Because what I do, I do not expect to be paid. But I do expect to have a mostly jolly good time, nurturing this boy into his full potential.
Hello there, and welcome to Wanjiku Mwaurah’s corner of the internet.
Over a decade ago, I was blogging anonymously. I would do it in the middle of the night and I loved it! That was until I lost my website from a hosting service I was using. I took a break and somehow lost my writing voice. I couldn’t write for pleasure anymore, and my writing voice quivered each time I sat in front of my computer. But at the turn of this decade of my life, I am back with the same excitement I started. Not only do I blog here, but I also have a professional portfolio over at my website .
Since my first blogging experience, I have evolved fro just poetry, my first love. I now do prose, musings in the middle of the night and journalistic analysis of stories I find fascinating. I invite you to take the journey with me.
I would love to connect with lovers of life. Come, let’s dream away together. Let’s ask questions about things that seem obvious but are not. Most importantly, I would love to connect with those who have similar or different experiences on the things I share.